Athletics adds esports to varsity roster

Michael Pearce, Sports Editor

Stadiums across the world are being filled by people of all ages to watch people play video games. Esports, from Rocket League to Super Smash Brothers, are taking over international and United States audiences, making their way into the sporting world day-by-day.

Oakland University Athletic Director Steve Waterfield noticed this through his children, who, instead of watching typical television like he did while growing up, are watching other people play video games.

“They watch YouTube videos of other people playing video games,” Waterfield said. “Once I realized that their population and other generations are interested in that, it confirmed my initial thoughts because I saw it everyday in our house … sometimes too much.”

On Friday, Dec. 6, Oakland held an announcement regarding their partnership with the Detroit Renegades to bring esports to OU as a varsity sport.

The Renegades, a professional esports team based in Detroit, will be providing the infrastructure and expertise to assist the university in growing the varsity and club esports teams.

Waterfield hopes to not only host events with the Oakland team at the Renegades facility, but eventually on Oakland’s campus as well.

“There are opportunities to do it in the O’rena, it’s a good size,” he said. “What I don’t know at this time is the infrastructure, what it looks like and how much we have to bring in. I think there are opportunities in the Oakland Center as well for competitions.”

The esports team at Oakland will initially focus on three games: League of Legends, Rocket League and Super Smash Brothers.

Bringing in esports as a varsity sport on the same level as traditional sports was not met without resistance. Comments on the video announcement on WXYZ’s Facebook page can be seen condemning this move, saying it is promoting laziness and a “couch potato” lifestyle.

“Pistol and Rifle are two sports we had at Ohio State when I was there, and the goal there is to actually not move and reduce your heart rate,” Waterfield said. “But there’s skill involved. Looking at the definition of a sport, it fits the definition. Esports are participating with a team in a very social setting. Looking at some of the videos I’ve seen, it’s one of the more social activities around. To me, it is a sport. Rather than debate it, let’s jump in and pursue it.”

After announcing the addition, athletics is now shifting toward building the program, including looking for a head coach to pick the players and build the roster. Waterfield has already had numerous people reach out, looking to be a part of the coaching staff.

The head coach will also be in charge of divvying up the scholarship money to the members of the team. The approximately $24,000 will be divided among 12 men and women.

“The average esport scholarship nationally is about $2,000,” Waterfield said. “We thought if we had 12 spots, 12 times 2,000 is 24,000, and then the head coach can determine how much each person receives.”

Waterfield expects other universities in the state to follow, but for now, Oakland is the first Division I university to bring in esports as a varsity sport.

“It’s neat to be a part of a university that is cutting-edge,” he said. “I expect 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road that it will be further entrenched in the athletic landscape, so it is fun to be at the beginning of it rather than the tail-end of it.”